If you feel like your skin is scaly, tight, dry, and uncomfortable straight from November to March — no matter how much moisturizer you slather on — well, you’re not alone. The colder months are notorious for leaving people with much drier skin. While hand cream, facial oils, and chapstick galore are probably all essential items for you this season, chances are you’re still finding yourself fighting off persistent dryness.


Can you relate? If so, NYC Dermatologist & RoC Skincare Advisory Board Member, Joshua Zeichner, MD, is on hand to answer questions about why skin gets so frustratingly dry during the colder months…and what we can all do about it.


Why does skin get so dry in the winter?

“The skin is designed to protect itself from the environment, but harsh exposures during the winter often take a toll and lead to skin dryness,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Cold temperatures, coupled with low humidity and wind, strip the skin of essential oils needed to maintain healthy skin barrier function and hydration. This leads to microscopic cracks in the outer skin layer with loss of hydration.”

Unfortunately, two of the things that make cold weather more bearable — long, hot showers and dry heat at home — can exacerbate skin barrier dysfunction, according to Dr. Zeichner. 

Many of us moisturize our skin a lot during the winter but still experience persistent dryness. What’s that all about?

You may not be using the right moisturizer, for starters. 

“It’s important to use the right moisturizer to address the needs of the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner.”Look for products designed to repair the skin barrier. These products contain a blend of emollient, humectants, and occlusive ingredients. Products that are loaded only with hyaluronic acid but do not contain traditional skin-protecting emollients are not great products to maintain hydration.”

Hyaluronic acid in particular is key when coupled with emollients, as it acts like a sponge, says Dr. Zeichner. “It is good at pulling in hydration, but not keeping it there. That’s why you need products formulated with emollients and occlusives to keep hydration in place,” he says.

Aside from applying moisturizing products, is there anything people can do to help with dry skin?

You may wonder if hydrating your body by drinking lots of water can help with skin dryness — but Dr. Zeichner calls out the myth that contributes to this idea. 

“It is a complete myth that you need to drink eight glasses of water to maintain skin hydration,” he says. “Furthermore, there’s no data showing that drinking fewer than eight glasses of water leads to dryness. The best way to prevent dryness is to stick to short, lukewarm showers with gentle, hydrating cleansers. Make sure to apply moisturizer after bathing. Even if you see flakes, avoid over-exfoliating, as this can lead to irritation, inflammation, and more dryness.”

How do you feel about "slugging" to address dry skin? 

If you’re active on TikTok, you’ve probably seen videos about slugging, which refers to the practice of applying something like Vaseline to the skin. Is this a gimmicky social media trend…or something worth trying? 

“Slugging is a treatment where a petroleum-based ointment is applied to the skin to protect and repair the skin barrier. It is a great option for people suffering from dry skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. 

Applying something so thick to your skin may seem like a recipe for a breakout — how does Dr. Zeichner feel about someone who is acne-prone trying this?

“Slugging can be used across all skin types,” he says. “I’m cautious in recommending it to people who are oily or acne-prone, as it can leave the skin feeling heavy or greasy. I also do not recommend applying petroleum jelly on top of an active ingredient like retinol because it can enhance penetration and ultimately lead to more skin irritation.”

Why does skin seem to get drier with age?

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If you feel like you get a little dryer every single year (I know I do), you’re not imagining it.

“As we age, skin cell functioning declines, and the pH of the skin becomes more alkaline. Collectively, this interferes with the skin’s ability to produce natural hydrating ingredients and maintain a healthy skin barrier, ultimately leading to dryness,” says Dr. Zeichner.

Aside from the obvious areas where people are prone to dryness (like lips and hands), are there other areas of the body we should pay attention to when moisturizing?

That would be…every area, according to the dermatologist.

“I usually recommend applying a moisturizer head to toe after bathing,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Areas where there is friction against the clothing tend to develop dryness more easily. It’s important to pay particular attention to elbows, knees, and heels of the feet.”

Should people switch their facial moisturizer in the winter to accommodate that dryness?

In short? Yes.

“Just like you have a wardrobe of clothing to wear during the different seasons, the same is true of your skincare,” says Dr. Zeichner, who calls out RoC’s Barrier Renew moisturizer as a great choice. “I often recommend switching up your facial moisturizer to a product that contains a blend of richer ingredients. In some cases, heavier consistency products may also be appropriate.”

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.